Under Pressure

College radio is in turmoil now, with administrators looking to cash in their few remaining chips “for the good of the students.” Jack Hannold sent along this item:

From http://www.radio-info.com/newsletter/html/tri-01212011.html this morning:

More K-Love ahead? Morehead State Public Radio is selling off one of its two full-power FMs, and the outfit that’s buying WOCS, Lerose, Kentucky (88.3) owns another FM that runs the national “K-Love” contemporary Christian feed. That’s going to be a change for listeners to the ten-year-old WOCS. It’s been simulcasting news/variety WMKY in Morehead, based at the campus of Morehead State University. Now the school’s selling the Class A WOCS, about 80 miles south of Morehead. Beattyville-based Hour of Harvest Inc. is getting WOCS for $70,000, and will presumably flip it to a religious format. It’s doing “K-Love” on its WLJC (102.1), and it also does religious programming on its WLJC-TV, affiliated with the Trinity Broadcasting Network. As for Morehead State, it’s still got an 88.3 signal elsewhere in the state — FM translator W202BH in Inez, in Martin County southeast of Morehead.

And this news out of Kentucky, where the university plays consolidator:

After 64 years of broadcasting in Middletown, WPFB-FM will drop local programming as part of a $6.7 million station takeover.

The Northern Kentucky University public radio station, WNKU-FM, announced an agreement Wednesday to acquire WPFB (105.9 and 910-AM) and WPAY-FM (104.1) in Portsmouth, Ohio. WNKU will simulcast its current broadcast format on the Middletown and Portsmouth stations effective Feb. 1. There are no plans to keep local sports broadcasting after the switch-over, said Chuck Miller, WNKU general manager.

And here’s the news out of Pittsburgh, where the locals are wondering what will become of the programming on their public radio station. Note the omnipresence of matchmaker Public Radio Capital in the acquisition:

Essential Public Media is buying WDUQ from Duquesne University for $6 million. While Essential Public Media is committed to preserving the station as a public radio station, listeners are already wondering what the new 90.5 might be.

Essential Public Media is a joint venture between two organizations — one local, one out of town: adult alternative station WYEP-FM (91.3) and Boulder, Colo.-based Public Media Co., a new nonprofit launched by Public Radio Capital, whose mission is to build and preserve public media….

[W]hat the role of jazz will be on the new station remains to be seen. The nuts and bolts of the programming haven’t been crafted yet, said WYEP general manager Lee Ferraro. “It’s really early to say anything” about specific programming plans.Pittsburgh Public Media, the other bidder in the sale made up of a group of WDUQ staff members and community and business leaders to raise funds for the license, will be watching the process carefully. It is committed to preserving the current mix of jazz and news programming.

“We are … proud of the public voices PPM helped foster throughout the media that clearly stated the absolute necessity of local news reporting and the continuation of Pittsburgh’s musical heritage, jazz,” PPM said in a statement issued Monday. “We wish the best for WYEP and its partners, and we hope that they recognize and see the value of the talented and dedicated staff of the existing 90.5FM.”

PPM isn’t going to disappear.

“We really focused on keeping the public involved in public radio. [WDUQ] belongs to the 200,000 listeners. This is their station,” said PPM board chair Joseph Kelly. “We’ll be watching this deal. The community voice of the station should not be lost.”

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Why I Don’t Listen to HD Radio

This post on a blog called BSW Control Room features Gary Beebe, a “BSW Special Projects Engineer,” taking HD radio to task, from the perspective of someone who originally had high hopes for its prospects:

Why I don’t listen to HD Radio

This is not about HD radio. Huh? But you just said . . . I know; hear me out.

When HD radio was first launched, I anticipated great things. HD’s higher-quality audio capability would certainly encourage stations to make their sound the best it could be. That’s the main attraction, right? Better sound? Listeners would flock to the new, improved sound of radio, instead of listening to mp3′s and streaming internet stations.

And the improved sound would trickle down to the conventional FM audio, too. Because, when reception of the HD signal is poor, the radio switches back to “regular” FM. The standard FM audio needs to be cleaned up and polished to be worthy of being the back-up for the HD sound. Everybody wins.

So, the regular FM audio got some attention, and became downright pleasant to listen to. Nice.

It lasted about a week. Then the familiar “over-compressed, over-limited, chainsaw-and-shattered-glass” sound made its way back.

Apparently, the folks who believe that maximum loudness is the key to listener retention had their way. Now the HD and the regular FM audio match perfectly . . . they are both equally harsh. So much for improved audio quality.

I’m sorry, but being the loudest signal on the radio dial isn’t the answer. Listeners don’t suddenly lock in to your station because it’s loud.

Manually scanning the dial, searching for a signal, hasn’t been a popular activity for a looong time. And how would you know if your station is louder than my mp3 player? Loudness wars don’t work. They only serve to annoy the listeners, and drive them to alternate entertainment sources (internet, mp3, satellite).

Listeners will stay with you if the program content is appealing, if the personalities are sharp, and the sound is good. Why should they listen to distortion at your place, when the same songs are being played over there with much better sound?

Said & Done V

Bits and pieces from recent web posts:

  • IBiquity made big noise recently about Ford mounting an HD radio in some models. Nothing was said, however, about the one feature noted here that many frustrated drivers would love to have in theirs: an on-off switch. Many discussion boards are filled with instructions on how to weave through settings screens to do this, avoiding the aggravating dropped signals or out-of-sync switching to analog that plague mobile listening.
  • Speaking of HD radio, Fox News recently listed it as one of the biggest CES (Consumer Electronics Show) flops of all time, saying “Dubbed the “next great thing” in free broadcast radio, HD radio offered digital CD-quality sound but was ultimately held back by poor marketing and expensive manufacturing costs.”
  • This post on AllAccess.com recently detailed a challenge to the Arbitron radio ratings service in Gainesville/Ocala, FL, saying: “Many independent broadcasters have now proven that Arbitron is no longer a necessity. Although no one size fits all, there are three real options: go naked, stay with Arbitron or switch to Eastlan. Going without ratings sometimes offers a short-term benefit, but is not a viable solution beyond a few months. Being shareholder focused, Arbitron is extraordinarily expensive in many markets and becoming more so. Consequently, EASTLAN is increasingly embraced as the make-sense compromise.”
  • Another post on rbr.com about the same subject added this: “‘The lack of stability book to book and the high cost for our independently owned stations made the decision simple for us. We opted for double the sample size for a lot less money and investing the difference in our locally focused radio stations,’ said Dix VP/GM Jim Robertson.” The area ranks as the #83 Arbitron market, and Dix, the company changing to Eastlan, owns Arbitron’s #1 rated station and the #3 station in Persons 12+.
  • A recent newsletter from Info-radio.com’s Tom Taylor carried this ominous note :

Radio’s “Daily Time Spent” slipped 1.9% last year, says eMarketer.
That’s not a good direction, and it’s on top of a reported 3.1% drop in 2009. But radio’s always got the fallback response that “at least we’re not newspapers,” and that’s amply demonstrated in the year-end numbers. Time spent with newspapers fell 10.5%, following a 13% drop in 2009. TV usage was down about 1% in 2010. As for absolute numbers – radio’s down from 101.6 minutes in 2008 to 97.5 minutes in 2009 to 95.7 minutes in 2010. TV’s off from 266.5 minutes to 264 minutes. Newspapers are down to 29.7 minutes per day. On the new-media side, usage of Internet and mobile media is up as expected, with the Internet growing about 6% to 155.1 minutes. Mobile media, starting from a much smaller base, is up 27% to nearly 50 minutes in 2010. It’s not clear whether eMarketer includes Internet radio listening in the “radio” category or “Internet.”

The Belly of the Beast

The Save KUSF Facebook page (link now on right) has blossomed overnight, with more than 3,500 fans in one day. At this point it’s past 4,300, perhaps soon to challenge the vehemence of the folks on the Save WRVU site (link on right). Meanwhile, the story has gone viral on the blogosphere, including this post on Arts&Media.net, which proposes an alternate plan:

The $3.75 million sale of KUSF-FM by the University of San Francisco will have a chilling effect on the culture, community and civic life of San Francisco, the Bay Area, and beyond.

Independent Arts & Media is the 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor of Friends of KUSF, a volunteer organization that advocates for KUSF-FM’s cultural, civic, community-development and First Amendment services. As such, we propose an alternative plan for the dispensation of the KUSF license and assets, and for the appropriate compensation of the University of San Francisco.

The author, Christine McClintock, executive director of the nonprofit, makes excellent points about the sale strengthening commercial “classic rock” broadcaster KUFX, which programs generic music already saturating the market commercially, and a “generic ‘wallpaper’ classical-music format of the commercial-broadcast veterans of KDFC-FM that does nothing to strengthen or advance the Bay Area’s living, vital performing arts. Indeed, KUSF-FM already runs some of the region’s leading-edge classical music programming, greatly eclipsing KDFC’s depth, quality and commitment to local classical music.”

Unfortunately, she’s preaching to a tone-deaf choir in the FCC when she implores them to block the sale because it “will actively undermine the public interest” — something which the agency has shown a great disdain for (witness its response to the legal efforts at Rice University, chronicled here). If you’re talking about a mega-consolidator wanting to suck up another mega-corporation, then the FCC is all ears. Or a power play by the über lords of radio — “public” as well as commercial — to foist a junk science like HD radio off on unwitting consumers to benefit a monopoly company and its eager minions . . . Now you’re talkin’.

Understandably, the fans on the Facebook page take to task the “brothers” of the Jesuit-run USF for their behind-the-back dealings and mealy-mouthed mumblings self-righteously justifying their actions. Best face the facts, folks: They’re not your brothers. They just sealed a deal with the corporate borg absorbing local radio stations. A camel will sooner pass through the eye of a needle than they will actually take what you care about to heart. A bit of optimism might be more supportive, but it’s the cynic who usually avoids disappointment. A quote from the last KUSF post here bears repeating:

Henry A. Giroux | Beyond the Swindle of the Corporate University: Higher Education in the Service of Democracy
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: “Memories of the university as a citadel of democratic learning have been replaced by a university eager to define itself largely in economic terms. As the center of gravity shifts away from the humanities and the notion of the university as a public good, university presidents ignore public values while refusing to address major social issues and problems. Instead, such administrators now display corporate affiliations like a badge of honor, sit on corporate boards and pull in huge salaries.”

Jennifer Waits, long a supporter of college radio, now finds herself battling to save a station in her own backyard. Her posts, found on Spinning Indie and Radio Survivor (links or right), speak to the joy of free-form college radio, the salvation of discovery, and revelation of the next coming. Her most recent post contained some impassioned entreaties from students in an overflowing meeting with the USF president Privett:

Chad Heimann, a KUSF DJ and a junior Media Studies major at USF, said that “yesterday when I was at KUSF and thrown out… I didn’t feel like a student, I felt like a criminal.” He explained to Privett that he was also a campus tour guide and that he refused to give a tour the day after the shut-down because he didn’t “want to have to say anything bad about the university.” He also expressed how important the non-student volunteers and the San Francisco community are to KUSF, arguing, “I know for a fact… we can’t do this without the community… I can’t run a radio station without the community… I love them and I learn from them.” He also told Privett that right now he feels “ashamed” to attend USF and said, “I feel so betrayed by the school that I love so much.”

An excellent, heartfelt piece by Jennifer, counterpoint to an odd discordance: The president who opened the meeting with a prayer is the “brother” who could countenance locking the students out of the radio station and giving them the bum’s rush out the door. For their own good, of course.

“Hybrid” Definition: Potted Pork

This post on Air Chexx (“Where classic radio lives”) makes no bones about webmaster Steve West’s opinion of HD radio:

In short, HD Radio, for all the hoopla and push for it back in 2005-6, is an abysmal failure. It wastes bandwidth, power and has ruined the AM and FM bands for DX’ers. Most of all, it’s not marketable, with any potential listening audience unable to hear these new channels (stations between the stations, as the industry tried to sell it to the public as) due to a lack of interest on the part of manufacturers. Sound familiar? It should. The five years back in the 80s that it took manufacturers of SOME car radios and only a select few Sony Walkman and table radios to finally include Motorolla C-Quam AM Stereo decoders finished it for AM Music stations – it truly sounded better than FM, but there was never an audience to appreciate it, and just about the time the receivers hit the market in any kind of meaningful numbers, most AM music stations bailed on the format for talk.

Watching stations dump their HD channels this month, I conclude that HD radio is a failure and most radio groups know this. Just about the only worth these extra HD channels have is that of feeding a translator with a separate format. Look for an accelerated move by radio to dump HD and the increased energy bill that comes with it this year. AM stations are already rushing to go back to analog only – at least at night. That can only be a good thing, since the AM band was rendered almost unlistenable a couple of years ago when HD was authorized….

In the end, your webmaster believes nobody will listen and HD in a few years will be gone (like Quad and AM Stereo before it), remembered sadly as another fad that one company, iBiquity, managed to get the impressionable commissioners at the FCC to cram down radio’s throat. Prophetic? Maybe.

An Offer They Couldn’t Refuse

Radio Survivor carried a post from Jennifer Waits about the skullduggery surrounding the sale of another college radio station, KUSF in San Francisco:

There’s a chilling account on the Bay Citizen blog which reports what happened this morning at 10am when college radio station KUSF was taken off the air at University of San Francisco.

DJs reported that suddenly they heard static and were soon escorted out of the station by when KUSF DJs recount what happened when the station was taken off the air at 10am today. People in suits converged on the station and the locks were changed in order to keep out KUSF DJs and volunteers. According to Bay Citizen,

“University spokesman Gary McDonald affirmed that USF had kept information about the station’s sale — which was a $3.75 million dollar deal — quiet, but said that two of the four fulltime workers did know about it.

Discussions, he said, had been taking place for the past few months. ‘The papers were signed on Friday,’ McDonald said. He cited confidential legal reasons as the cause of USF’s silence to their volunteers. While the format change, from radio broadcast to online-only, is obviously the largest change, McDonald also pointed to other transformations in the works. ‘We are going to refocus the station on its primary purpose as a teaching lab for students,’ he said, ‘We are looking at ways to enhance curriculum in digital media.’”

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: (a) We did it behind their backs “for confidential legal reasons,” and (b) we did it for their own good. A local blog, SF Weekly, put it this way:

In a surprise move, University of San Francisco officials today yanked KUSF, its nearly 34-year-old community radio station, off the air, kicking out DJs and staff during the middle of a morning show. The FCC license for 90.3 FM was sold to an organization launching a public classical station in the Bay Area, and KUSF will continue, eventually, as an online-only station….

• Station manager Steve Runyon announced at a summer 2010 meeting that the station faced eviction by USF and may move to Fort Mason. He also mentioned the possibility of the license being sold. Other Jesuit college radio stations, including Los Angeles station KXLU, have had similar actions take place — threats and sales of licenses.

• At the January 2011 meeting it was announced that the station would move to a new building on campus, but there was no mention of losing the FM license.

• USF administrators (including KUSF paid staff) sign a very strict confidentiality agreement, so they’ve always been tight lipped about anything related to station finances, inner workings, and business with the university — hence the “surprise” announcement.

No matter what was known, it’s shocking for such a longstanding feature of the local music and culture scene to disappear so thoroughly and completely (even on the web!), and without any warning.

Their news blog, here, added some nasty details:

USF officials abruptly shut the doors to KUSF, the college’s well-known indie radio station today, locking out students and DJs with no notice.

Security guards walked into the station on campus this morning in the middle of a show and ordered everyone out, according to one student DJ. The university then shut down the station, and allowed staff to go back inside and get their things.

While collecting his stuff, Chad Heimann, a junior and student DJ, picked up a call from SF Weekly.

“It’s shitty,” he said. “Security guards are kicking us out.”

And here, throwing around numbers like they might be true, part (c):

KUSF will still remain as an online radio station, and all staff will be offered similar positions at KUSF.org. University officials defended the move, saying that the online format will give the station more capacity to accommodate “thousands” of listeners as opposed to the 100 listeners it is now limited to, according to the university.

In other news, WDUQ, the public radio station owned by Duquesne University, has been sold to Essential Public Media (EPM), a joint venture of WYEP and Public Media Company (PMC), a nonprofit launched by that eager darling of acquisitions, Public Radio Capital. In a post here, it was reported that the decision came “after the university did not accept an offer, believed to be larger, from the non-profit Pittsburgh Public Media (PPM). PPM had indicated that it would keep the NPR, local news and jazz format.” A separate post, here, on AllBusiness.com reported that PPM is a nonprofit group consisting of station employees and supporters of the current format.

WYEP Board Chairman Marco Cardamone said, “NPR programs that 90.5 listeners are used to hearing will continue but there’s no decision at this time regarding the 100 hours of jazz aired weekly on WDUQ.”

Tom Taylor’s newsletter contained the following item about the sale:

A year of uncertainty ends with the $6 million sale of Pittsburgh non-com WDUQ (90.5).
Duquesne University engendered criticism in Fall 2007 when it ordered WDUQ to cancel the $5,000 underwriting buy from Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. Duquesne President Dr. Charles Dougherty said the announcements conflicted with Catholic doctrine, even though they only mentioned women’s health issues such as breast cancer and STDs – not abortion services. That policy statement roiled the market, and many Pittsburgh observers predicted the university would unload the station after a proper interval. That’s not how the school positions it, of course. It says “the sale not only preserves the public character of the station, it will also allow us to make significant investments in key academic initiatives that are aligned with Duquesne’s strategic plan.” Those include new endowed chairs in African Studies and Mission Studies, plus a new endowment to help grad students. Duquesne certainly could’ve found willing (Protestant) Christian buyers for its nice Class B facility. But the eventual winner of the halting sale process is a new entity named Essential Public Media. It’s a joint venture between local adult alternative pubcaster WYEP (91.3) and a not-for-profit backed by Public Radio Capital, named Public Media Company. PRC’s Marc Hand says a key part of the new business plan is to “include student employment and internships” at Duquesne. Roger Rafson of CMS Station Brokerage repped Duquesne in the $6 million sale.

And this from author Gwen Fortune in Florida, which nicely sums up the whole mess:

Henry A. Giroux | Beyond the Swindle of the Corporate University: Higher Education in the Service of Democracy
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: “Memories of the university as a citadel of democratic learning have been replaced by a university eager to define itself largely in economic terms. As the center of gravity shifts away from the humanities and the notion of the university as a public good, university presidents ignore public values while refusing to address major social issues and problems. Instead, such administrators now display corporate affiliations like a badge of honor, sit on corporate boards and pull in huge salaries.”

Amen.

FCC to Rice Radio: Piss Off, Small Change

FCC Response to Austin Airwaves’s Request to Deny transfer of NCE License KTRU-FM, Houston, TX

Dear Consumer,

During the license renewal process, listeners of the stations whose licenses are up for renewal may participate in the process either by filing a petition to deny or informal objection against a renewal or by filing positive comments about a broadcaster’s service.

You can submit a protest against a station’s license renewal application by filing a formal petition to deny its application, or by sending us an informal objection to the application. Before its license expires, each station licensee must broadcast a series of announcements providing the date its license will expire, the filing date for the renewal application, the date by which formal petitions against it must be filed, and the location of the station’s public inspection file that contains the application. Petitions to deny the application must be filed by the end of the first day of the last full calendar month of the expiring license term. (For example, if the license expires on December 31, we must receive any petition at our Washington, D.C. headquarters by the end of the day on December 1.)

Broadcast licenses generally expire on a staggered basis, by state, with most radio licenses next expiring between October 1, 2011 and August 1, 2014, and most television licenses expiring between October 1, 2012 and August 1, 2015, one year after the radio licenses in the same state.

You can also participate in the application process by filing a petition to deny when someone applies for a new station, and when a station is to be sold (technically called an “assignment” of the license), its licensee is to undergo a major transfer of stock or other ownership, or control (technically called a “transfer of control”), or the station proposes major facility changes. The applicant is required to publish a series of notices in the closest local newspaper, containing information similar to that noted above regarding renewal applications, when it files these types of applications. Upon receipt of the application, the FCC will issue a Public Notice and begin a 30-day period during which petitions to deny these applications may be filed.  (All FCC Public Notices are included in the Commission’s Daily Digest and are posted on our website at http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Digest).

A petition to deny or an informal objection to a radio license renewal application may be filed AFTER the filing of the license renewal application. Notices of the filing of license renewal applications will be posted in the public notices listed at, for radio station applications: http://www.fcc.gov/fcc-bin/audio/cur_Broadcast_Applications.html. It is expected that the Commission’s website will also post notices of the filing of television station license renewal applications prior to the commencement of the next television station license renewal cycle in 2004. The Commission’s Consolidated Database System (CDBS) will also contain records pertaining to the license renewal applications.

The last day for filing petitions to deny is ONE MONTH PRIOR to the license expiration date.

As with renewal applications, you can also file an informal objection to these types of applications, or any other applications, at any time before we either grant or deny the application.

Petitions to deny broadcast station license renewals (a signed original and two copies) must be mailed or delivered to one of the following FCC addresses:
U.S. Postal Service Mail-
Office of the Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20554
ATTN: Audio Division, License Renewal Processing Team
Mail Stop 1800B

OR

Video Division, License Renewal Processing Team
Room 2-A665
Messenger or Hand Delivered Filings, and Filings Delivered by Other Than USPS-
Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission,
C/O Natek, Inc.,
236 Massachusetts Ave., N.E.
Suite 110, Washington, DC 20002
ATTN: Audio Division, License Renewal Processing Team
Mail Stop 1800B

In addition, courtesy copies may be sent directly to the Audio Division, License Renewal Processing Team (for radio) or the Video Division, License Renewal Processing Team (for television), using the addresses set forth above. A petition to deny must contain a certification that a copy of the petition was also mailed to the station, and must contain an affidavit of a person with personal knowledge attesting that the facts contained in the petition are true.

Again, if you have any specific questions about our processes or the status of a particular application involving a station, you may contact our Broadcast Information Specialist for radio or television, depending on the nature of your inquiry, by calling toll-free, by facsimile, or by sending an e-mail as noted below:

If your question relates to a radio station:
Toll-Free: (866) 267-7202 (Voice) or (877) 479-1433 (TTY)
Fax: (202) 418-1411
E-Mail: radioinfo@fcc.gov

If your question relates to a television station:
Toll-Free: (866) 918-5777 (Voice) or (866) 787-6222 (TTY)
Fax: (202) 418-2827
E-Mail: tvinfo@fcc.gov

Thank You.

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